Laurie Anderson’s Farewell to Lou Reed

Laurie Anderson’s Farewell to Lou Reed

This is simply elegant and exquisite.

I wish we could all approach death with such acceptance, fearlessness and wonder. 

As my own mother slowly becomes a walking ghost in this world, I witness the suffering that clinging to everything that “was” visits upon her.  We are helpless to ease her suffering, and she is nearing the end of this world in a great deal of psychic pain. 

No one can really know how they will feel when faced with old age, infirmity, chronic illness, or impending death.  Until they are.  Having had a couple of near death experiences, and losing some important people in my life, I have reflected on my own death perhaps more than most people.  I’m not sure.  I don’t wish to suffer now or then, so I accept with gratitude what comes each day.  The fact of my own death is inevitable; how I relate to it is optional. 

Because I will exit this life, part of my daily practice is meditating on death, on what it means to have a good death.  I think that means living without fear, in equanimity, and in gratitude for the wonder of it all. 

What do you think?

 

 

Pond Scum: Another Edition Of The Farm Report

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By the end of summer, the water level of the pond on the farm drops about ten feet, making the surface invisible to anyone not standing along its edges. Other than a plethora of bugs, not much stirs in the pond in the summer, so I don’t pay too much attention to it. Summers are brief, and we all want to laze around in the warm sun as if we could store it in our bodies and psyches for the dismal, gray months ahead.

I love nature. I allow bees to hover near me while I garden, and I don’t squash spiders. I don’t even use RoundUp on weeds. Wildlife tolerates me, and I try to live and let live. I’m very St. Francesca of Assisi in that way.

I was, that is. Until one summer day when I learned how quickly a pacifist can morph into a perp. I need you to know I am not proud. Really. It was a case of Rodent Rage.

I was forking up horse manner in the paddock, a task I actually like. I was one of the those little girls whose room resembled the aftermath of a cyclone but whose horse stalls were so immaculate, you could give birth in them.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me,” I wailed as I shoveled. “Sock it to me, sock it me, sock it me, oooooooh.”

In mid-song, the fury of barking dogs diverted my attention from horse pooh and Aretha. Barney and Rupert were circling the pond, frenzied, their focus directed toward something in the pond, something I couldn’t see from the paddock. Since ducks and geese were hardly novelties to the dogs, it had to be something new to them and it had to be alive. Otter, maybe? Beaver? Resting the manure fork against the rail, I scrambled over the fence to investigate.

Water rats. About a dozen of them, trapped in the middle of the pond by yapping dogs, treading water in a formation that reminded me of a tiny, furry synchronized swim team or extras from an Esther Williams movie.

Barn rats are something you learn to live with; you don’t like them, you lay traps for them, you let your barn cats and terriers kill them without guilt. But just seeing rats doing the breaststroke in my pond pushed me over the edge of reason, and something hateful and lethal invaded my otherwise tolerant soul. These little vermin, desperately swimming up and down the length of the pond to find a way out past the dogs intent on killing them, had less to fear from the dogs than from me. They were about to experience the Rodent Rapture.

Because I lacked anything like a pool skimmer with which I could have scooped the vermin out of the water and flung them like a jai alai player into the far reaches of the woods, I would have to improvise the manner of the Ratricide.

I chose stones. It was a primitive choice, emanating from the small Neanderthal part of my brain that was not in the least humane. Small ones to flip at them to herd them to the side wall of the pond where they would cling, their little mammalian minds believing they would blend into the dark clay unnoticed, and big, honking ones to crash down on those little heads to drown them. With the help of the dogs, who seemed to understand the gruesome plan perfectly, our deadly pack spent the rest of the afternoon killing rats.

“Over there!” I shouted, pointing to the dogs, as one of the rats would break from formation in an attempt to escape.

The dogs would converge, snarling and growling, and the rat would kick off from the wall and paddle across the pond to where I stood with a “smasher” rock. I’d heave it down on the rat. It’s beady little eyes would roll back in its pointed head as it bobbed back up to the surface for the briefest of moments before sinking into the shadowy deep for eternity.

We repeated this heinous collaboration over and over – my shouting directions, pitching stones to alter their course if needed, the dogs driving the rats to me, the cannonball-like splashes as the smasher rocks shattered the surface of the water, crushing their little skulls.

Out of all of the water rats, we had only one escapee. He made it to the opposite end of the pond unnoticed, and we watched as he sped up the bank, across the lawn and into the forest faster than a firecracker.

“TELL YOUR FRIENDS!!” I yelled after him, flush with the taste of the hunt. Word among the water rat dens must have spread because I never saw another rat in the pond.

That day, the day I became anathema to myself, I discovered how easily a normally lucid human mind can devolve into momentary – or an afternoon’s worth of – insanity. This epiphany occurred, after the rats were dead at the bottom of the pond and the war over, when I turned around, meaning to go back to the barn, and saw Dina David, my first real friend on the road, standing about a twenty yards away, staring in silence at me, aghast.

Dina, who’d dropped by for coffee, had witnessed enough of the massacre to be convinced I had finally gone mad. As she stood there, motionless, the idea of coming any closer to me was probably something giving her considerable pause.

“Water rats,” I explained weakly, a rock dropping from my hand.

“Most people just shoot them, Lisa,” Dina replied, “It’s much easier than stoning them to death.”

Delisting the Wolf – Your Help is Needed!

Will we kill everything beautiful and wild in the name of sport or “progress”? We can give voice to the voiceless by clicking on the link in this post by Mungai and the Goa Constrictor.

Mungai and the Goa Constrictor

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in its comment period on their proposal to remove the wolf from the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48.  Hearings are being held throughout the country.  If you can go, please do.  If that’s not possible, please write or call.  They need to hear from people who want the wolf protected, not only from those who don’t.

AMENDMENT
Many thanks to my good friend, Carmen Mandel, for providing a DIRECT LINK to add your comments. Please add yours. There are almost 32,000 signatures, as I write this, but this figure falls a long way short of previous opportunities.
This is so important
Please add your comment now
Your Voice in Federal Decision-Making

ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO COMMENT
Please click here for details

Click here for more details:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Related links:
Defenders of Wildlife
Grey Wolves Left Out…

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 69 – The Asian Elephant

This breaks my heart.

Mungai and the Goa Constrictor

“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Asian elephant pulling log uphill  Photo by Zafer KizilkayaEveryday, more elephants are captured for illegal logging operations.  Forced to aid the destruction of their own natural habitat, they move around in chains hauling away huge trees, clearing the way for more palm oil plantations.  With their habitat gone, the free herds are compelled to move towards human settlements in search of food and shelter. They have nowhere else to go.  They have no choice other than to leave behind the remnants of their forests and head towards the villages.  Those that do flee are often on the point of starvation. Unfortunately, on the move, they are inclined to do a great deal of damage.  This has brought humans and elephants to the point of war in Asia.

Villagers…

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Wisconsin’s Wolf Kill Tally Now 181

Exposing the Big Game

In Wisconsin, more wolves have been killed in 16 days than during the entire 2012 hunting and trapping season.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In just over two weeks, hunters and trappers in Wisconsin have killed off more than 181 wolves. This represents a horrible and disturbing trend of accelerated anti-wolf attitudes and killing.

How did this happen?

Reports suggest that the state Wolf Advisory Committee is now overrun by livestock and hunting and trapping interests – and the deck is now completely stacked against wolves.

We have to stop this before it’s too late. Please take action today and demand that balance be restored to the Wisconsin Wolf Advisory Committee!

This committee makes recommendations on quotas, policies and even population goals. But several scientific experts have been removed from the committee, and livestock and hunting and trapping interests have been added on in their place!

No outside scientists are…

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Please Recycle: Bailey The Reusable Dog

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They found her in the back seat of a stranger’s car at the mall, wearing a tired red collar without a tag, a crumpled paper sack holding two cans of dog food next to her bushy black tail.

Whoever left her probably believed they were doing the best thing, that maybe the owner of a nice car would have the money to keep her and care for her. She was well groomed and well fed; her people had cared for her. Whatever it was that brought them to the point of parting with her — a divorce, a deployment, a lost job. They must have believed this was better than taking her to a shelter.

But the owner of the nice car didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t keep her, and she ended up at the shelter anyway, one of the several million homeless dogs that are killed in shelters every year, one of several thousand dogs that are killed in animal shelters each day. Just like those dogs, she was born, she played, she loved, and she bonded to someone before that day. When her people’s luck ran out, so did hers. Almost.

Someone must have seen something special in her brown eyes, in the way she basked in even the smallest of attention paid to her, the way she seemed to smile when spoken to in a soft voice. Someone noticed her behind the bars of the cage as they walked through the kennel, her quiet manner unlike the others barking and jumping. “This one can be saved,” they thought, “this one is adoptable.”

The animal rescue group took her from the shelter and brought her to a farm, to a foster family who would take care of her, be kind to her, and get to know her while the group tried to find her a forever home. The foster family didn’t name her, and she had no way of telling them her name. The tentativeness of her situation made her watchful and careful, on her best behavior so the awful loss would not happen again. She must have grieved for her people.

It happened one day that I had a chance encounter with the woman from the farm at the feed store. She was buying some sort of monstrous looking metal device for her sow, Oona. We got to talking as we stood in line, and I ended up following her back to her farm to see the sow which lived up to its description of being as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. Oona was as nasty as she was large, so one look over the rail of the pen was plenty enough pig.

As we walked around the farm, I noticed the black dog almost surgically attached to the woman’s leg. The dog had not left her side from the moment of our arrival and had, in fact, leaped a three foot fence to get to her.

I said “That dog is really attached to you.” And the woman told me what she knew of the dog’s story. I knelt down on the soft grass to pet her, and I could feel this dog’s big heart radiating under my hand. My own dog, BJ The Wonder Dog, lay in the cool shaded grass, waiting for me. I stood up, thanked the woman for allowing us to visit, and opened the back of my Explorer for BJ to hop in. He did.

And in less than a minute, the black dog with the soulful eyes looked up at the woman, and, having made her own decision about her fate, hopped up into the Explorer right next to BJ. I looked at the two smiling, happy dogs in my truck and then over at the woman.

“I guess she’s found her home,” she said, smiling.

“I guess she has,” I replied, closing the tailgate of the truck.

I had gone to see a pig and come away with a used dog.

Bailey melded into our lives as if she’d always been a part of us. She patiently raised a kitten, and she was a companion not only to me but to BJ as age wore him down. When his sight went, she would use her body to herd him from the yard to the porch steps, her nose nudging his legs up the steps to the front door. Her devotion to him was amazing to witness, and when it came time to let him go, she grieved with me.

For the five years I had her, I often silently thanked the people who gave her up. She embodied everything that is best in dogs: their inexhaustible capacity for forgiveness, for loyalty, for love without condition. I think they help bring out those qualities in us, too.

But there’s something extra special about shelter dogs. They teach us about gratitude. In the end, it’s hard to say who saved whose life.

The Talk Of The Town

 

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Coming to this tiny Northwest town from Los Angeles, where the only thing anyone wants from a neighbor is anonymity, it hadn’t occurred to me I might attract much attention. 

 

My neighbors still referred to my property as the “Old Johnson Place,” although I didn’t buy it from the Johnson’s and there was not one person named Johnson on any of the farms bordering mine. No mind — nearly everyone nearby was related in some way, not only to Old Johnson but also to each other.  That was more than a bit disconcerting, and there were terrible flashes of dueling banjos playing in my head, but most of them seemed nice enough and their children looked normal.   

 

My farm sits on five acres on long road that has historically been its own community.  Settled by Scandinavian immigrants around the end of the 19th Century, it is dotted by family farms handed down through the generations.  New people are warmly welcomed but are also the subject of much curiosity and even more gossip.

 

It’s been said, “love is blind, but not your neighbors.” Apparently, they aren’t deaf, either. 

 

It was Barney that helped me first cross the social gap from newcomer to, well, village idiot, a position in the community I would hold until someone finally did something dumber than I could conjure up on my own. 

 

Barney, the tough looking Shepherd/Rottweiller cross I had adopted in L.A. had every reason to mistrust and dislike people. He was found wandering in a part of L.A. known for gang wars and dog fighting. He had cigarette burn scars on his body, places where chains had rubbed his coat away, and the crooked reminder that someone had broken his back legs.

 

The name on the “Needs A Good Home” poster at my vet’s office was “Blazer,” and I remember thinking:  what a dumb name for a dog.

 

My wonderful shelter rescue Bailey had died six months earlier, and Rupert, my Jack Russell, and I felt like we were missing a limb. Together, we went to visit Blazer, who had been in a large metal crate for several weeks, and seemed a most docile though, understandingly, emotionally disconnected dog.  I’ve always had luck with the “used” dogs I’ve adopted, so I signed all the papers while watching Rupert trying to entice a bewildered Blazer to play by barking at him in the “down dog” play position and then scurrying around him to tug on his bushy tail.  Blazer displayed no hint of canine social skills, and, although never aggressive toward other dogs, he lacked any real curiosity about them.

 

On the way home, the re-christened “Barney” rode shotgun in the small backseat of my pickup, complete with an enormous, plastic cone collar due to his neuter surgery and a full bladder that emptied between the vet’s office and my house. Not a glorious beginning.

 

 

This poor dog had never been inside a house, which, of course, meant he wasn’t housebroken. Or leash trained.  Or voice trained.  Why on earth would he have any reason to come to me when I didn’t know his “birth” name?  Maybe the mean people who’d had him didn’t call him anything but “Ashtray.” 

 

What I did know about him was that he was scared of making a mistake, and the thing he wanted more than anything – more than food, more than to be chased wildly through the deer paths of the canyon on what could loosely be called a “walk” — was to be stroked by a hand that wasn’t violent. Barney would be the dog to teach me about patience and the time it takes to heal from wounds of the psyche, and how trust can be mended as well as spirit. Everything else – name recognition, housebreaking, sitting, coming, staying – would work itself out with some time.  

 

 

And it did, or at least enough of it did. Still, despite the fact that he learned to sit and “give me five” for a cookie in fifteen minutes, Barney was and would remain unusual. He was his own dog.

 

 

Once we moved to the farm, he had five acres to freely patrol, and I watched with trepidation as he developed his pattern — out the back door, down the dirt path toward the back pasture, once around the fence line of pasture, then around the backside of the pond, along the side yard, through the front garden, across the property entrance and back to the inner garden to the back door.  Include stopping, sniffing and marking dozens of times, and Barney’s routine lasted anywhere from a full hour to over two.

 

 

For the first month or so, I was nervous that he would enlarge his circuit, wander into the road and get hit by a car, so I called him home incessantly. He’d look up at the sound of my voice, his tail would perk up and off he’d continue on his route, almost as if he was taunting me: You don’t know my secret name!!

 

 

In fact, because I was new to the road, it wasn’t until the first potluck dinner gathering some months later that I realized my neighbors knew more about Barney than they did about me.  I also learned how far my voice carried.  The conversation went like this:

 

 

Neighbor: Oh, you’re the new owner of the Old Johnson Place, aren’t you? Where’s your husband?

 

 

Me: Um, well, my husband died.

 

Neighbor, now with a horrified look on her face: Oh, no! I’m so sorry; we didn’t hear he had died. We would have come over, I feel so bad.

 

 

Me: No, no — it’s okay. My husband died in 1991.

 

 

Neighbor (with quizzical look on face, like the ones dogs get when they hear other dogs barking on TV): Oh. Well, then, who is Barney?

 

 

Me (laughing): Barney is my DOG!

 

 

Neighbor (now also laughing): Oh, God, we thought Barney was your husband! We always felt so sorry for him, the way you were always yelling at him to come in for dinner or come back to the house.

 

 

For the first few years we lived on the farm, it was a standing joke that I was married to a dog.

 

I figured I’d dated worse.

 

You Dirty Rat

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“Trade?” I ask Willow when she has hold of something not good for her (like my sock, a pencil or a shard of firewood). 

Her ears perk up.  She runs over to me, drops the not-so-good thing for a better thing (a cookie or an approved chew toy). 

We are in the process of learning “Drop It” which is a harsher command (think of how it sounds — the intonation behind the words as opposed to the inflection of “Trade?” which ends in an up pitch).  But I wonder if it’s such a good thing to barter with your puppy. 

Today, Willow found a gray rat.  I don’t know if she killed it or if it was already dead.  But at 6:30 this morning, I looked out the window into the dog yard on the farm to see this bit of fur with the unmistakable rat tail limply hanging from her mouth. 

Being a natural ratter, she was ecstatic.  Racing around the yard, the little gears in her primitive mind whirling with great velocity, torn between finding a place to hide her new treasure and the inability to let it go. 

Fascinating from a anthropological point of view.  DISGUSTING from my personal point of view. 

The dilemma:  I have nothing better to trade that beats a dead rat. 

Ninety minutes of watching her and periodically enticing her to “Trade?” and coming up short later, she appears at the back door sans rat.  I pray she hasn’t eaten it (poison possibility, worms, God knows what else) but stashed it somewhere for later.  She comes in, gets breakfast, is praised for coming in. 

While she eats breakfast, I go out into the big dog yard (which is actually a part of my garden), wearing a pair of work gloves and muck boots to seek the corpse.  No luck.  Only Willow will lead me to her prize, so I put her on a long lead and harness.  Out we go together, leaving Gus and Martha in the house.  Sure enough, she dives into the dank darkness beneath the deck and emerges with mouth clamped around the dead vermin. 

“Trade?” I ask, holding out her favorite squeaky plush toy. 

Are you kidding? her eyes say.  I am a ratter.  I am a great spotted hunter.  I have prey.  Real prey, with real fur and real stink.  Uh-uh.

I reel her in, grab her by the scruff of her neck and pinch her nose.  The dead rat, its gray fur now matted with dog saliva, its long yellow teeth visible in a mouth in the beginning stage of rigor mortis, drops to the ground.  With my free gloved hand, I lift it by its long naked tail, holding it high above my shoulder as we walk toward the garbage can just on the other side of the dog yard fence.

It hits the bottom of the empty plastic bin with an unremarkable thud.

Willow looks at me, crestfallen.

There will be other rats, even if she does not yet understand that.  But there is always something special about your first time.

 

 

Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light

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My elderly mother adopted an Italian Greyhound named Ruby eight years ago. 

Ruby brought out a maternal devotion in my mother that made my sister and me more than a bit resentful.  Ruby has more clothes than we did as kids, and, more to the point, had to jump through none of the hoops we did to earn her love.  Ah, but then dogs are less complicated than people, making the give and take of love fluid and easy.  Ruby makes my mom happy; she’s a good companion and a social bridge to people.  She gives mom a reason to get up in the morning, take walks and keep going.

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year, she was in the early middle stages.  Confused at times, unable to manage her finances, hold anything in her short term memory.  But Ruby’s routine — her feeding schedule, her medications, her walk times — were firmly embedded in the part of mom’s brain that wasn’t dying.  Ruby even moved with mom from her house to a facility that provided a bit more care when that time came. 

Alzheimer’s is much like any other progressive disease in that it teaches you, among so many other things, to live in each moment.  You can never get time back once it is spent, and you can’t plan very far ahead.  Like on a map:  You.  Are.  Here.  Here is vast and very fleeting.  Here is full and even if you are attending to it closely, you miss so much. 

Mom’s decline has been very swift.  Her brain is dying.  She can’t tell night from day.  Phone numbers do not make sense to her.  She is repetitive and often abusive with the staff.  She swears like a longshoreman.  She needs a walker but uses a cane and the wall.  And Ruby is with her like Velcro.  Although scared of the changes in mom’s behavior, her devotion will not allow her to abandon mom.  I know Ruby recognizes the essence of mom is unchanged.

The dilemma is that Ruby’s routine is slowly vanishing from mom’s memory as mom becomes more of a ghost of herself.  She cannot remember whether she has given Ruby her medications or if she has just taken her out.  To balance what is best for mom and what is best for Ruby breaks hearts all around.  In a quiet moment a week ago, she asked my grown nephew Ben if he would take Ruby, even though she is not quite ready to let her go.  She needed the assurance that her dog would be looked after.  And Ruby will.

In that moment, a moment unintentionally overheard by me, I realized that my mother is still teaching me.  Her journey through Alzheimer’s may be a path on which our individual paths intersect but ultimately we each walk alone.  As my mother’s corporeal light dims, I am reminded again that the things we accumulate in life are shed as we approach death.  They are unnecessary, and my mother’s disease prevents her from clinging to them.  At some vanishing point, she will be free of everything.  And illuminated.

You.  Are.  Here.

 

 

I Am Here With You

May I be hit by lightening if I ever fail to fully appreciate and acknowledge the fine characters of my two grown dogs, Angus and Martha. 

It’s easy to sometimes overlook their forbearance and utter acceptance of the wave of changes that a new puppy brings to the sea of our lives together.

Gus, once the incorrigible seat belt eating, front seat hog, ball hoarder has grown into this devoted, well mannered dog of dogs. More, he has become the instant babysitter for a mouthy and fearless terrier pup. I hope some of the characteristics Gus and Martha share that endear them to me so much will rub off on Willow.

If there is something beyond love, that is what I feel for them.

I Will Wait Here As Long As It Takes I Will Wait Here As Long As It Takes